Racial inequality has been problematic throughout American history, and the most disastrous outcome has been its restriction of democracy. According to W. E. B. DuBois, a true democracy stems around an entire population with a colorblind educational system with further emphasis on no arbitrary segregation, large citizen participation in the electoral process, and no political and economic inequality. It is incredibly apparent that this image of an ideal democracy as yet to be achieved to the constant oppression of minority group that has plagued the history of the United States.
Throughout history and into today laws and social patterns have oppressed various races, one of the most heavily oppressed groups has been the African American population. This oppression has resulted in many of the required rights for a democracy being stripped away from this group of people, resulting in the restriction of democracy for not only African Americans, but from this country as a whole. In order for a country to be truly democratic, all people must have these rights because the population consists of everyone, not just one race.
One of the key moments in the oppression of the African American community was the Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court Case. In this case, Homer Plessy, a man deemed legally African American because it made up an eighth of his ancestry, was arrested for riding in a “whites only” train car in New Orleans. He was convicted on a local level, but soon filed a petition claiming the ruling was a breach of his 13th and 14th Amendment rights and the case was then heard in front of the Supreme Court. Plessy’s argument was that the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment was violated by segregation laws because the clause required all everyone to have equal protection of the law, and segregation went against this.
However, the Supreme Court ruled 7 to 1, with one judge abstaining, against Plessy, creating the “Separate but Equal” ruling. This ruling was created because the court stated that law required facilities to be equal and, as stated in Justice Henry Brown’s Opinion, “If one race be inferior to the other socially, the constitution of the United States cannot put them upon the same plane”, declaring that the law cannot dictate the social structure of America. This ruling led to the creation of “lim Crow” Laws, which are segregation laws on basically every facility in the southern United States, as well as the beginning of the “Jim Crow” Era.
Although the “Separate but Equal” ruling of Plessy v. Ferguson was acceptable because equal facilities were required by law, almost all of the time the facilities were far from being equal. Due to this inequality the African American population was subject to inequality in their education and political and economic standpoint and the unfair arbitrary segregation of all facilities gave the white population as feeling of entitlement, which then grew into a white supremacy outlook on live, all of which cultivated into the restriction of African American democracy, and therefore American democracy.
At the time of the “Separate but Equal” ruling, United States Law required that separate facilities be equal. An example of this the Louisiana law about railroads which required “that all railway companies carrying passengers in their coaches in this state, shall provide equal but separate accommodations for the white, and colored race”. This law was one of the key pieces of evidence the court pointed to in order to justify their decision. This interpretation led to the increase of segregation laws, known as “Jim Crow” laws that legally stated that the separate facilities were equal.
Additionally, the court stated that they could have no control over the social structure of the United States, so if the African American population was viewed lower socially, they had no power to change that. This concept resulted in the justification of why colored facilities be of lesser quality sometimes is because they have a “badge of inferiority” stigma that they created due to the laws and that the facilities are only worse because they think segregation is an attack on them. While actually segregation is meant to preserve equality, just in separate groups. However, this ruling was coated in deceit and a misguided view.
Even if all of the justification the Supreme Court gave for their ruling of the Plessy v. Ferguson case were true, it would still be a contraction of democracy because the ruling allows arbitrary segregation. However, it did more than just result in arbitrary segregation because the “Separate but Equal” guideline that was created was not followed. Even though the law required that all separate facilities be equal, under risk of punishment, this was rarely the case, in fact, more often the facilities would differ greatly in quality. Additionally, the decision led to the increase of segregated facilities.
The reason for this breaking of the law was passable was because of the idea that colored facilities were only worse because that is how African Americans viewed a segregated system and because the lawmakers of the time were almost entirely white and had no reason to change a system that greatly favor themselves. However, even this justification was deemed unconstitutional by the one dissenting judge, Justice John Marshall Harlan. Harlan stated, “there is in this country no superior, dominant, ruling class of citizen of citizens. There is no caste here. Our Constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens”.
Harlan’s statement demonstrates that in this country no one class can be superior to another, which is the exact result of the “Separate but Equal” ruling. Furthermore, not only is the ruling unconstitutional and the unenforced, because of this ruling and its results, the African American community faced not only arbitrary segregation, but unfair arbitrary segregation. This continued into creating unfair systems against the African American population stripped them an equal education, as well as equal political and economic representation, all of which took way from the United States democracy. This was all made worse by its enhancement of the preexisting white entitlement beliefs, which has created a white supremacist attitude, which has continued into today. While the Plessy v. Ferguson ruling resulted in many unfair segregated facilities, the one that was most detrimental to the African American community and democracy as a whole, was how it created a massive difference in education. A colorblind education system was the main point in DuBois’ definition of democracy and is fundamental in the creation of the future of the country.
However, if the education system is skewed in favor of one race, which it was, then that favored race is given greater opportunities and chances for success. Creating an unf advantage to a select group of the population, hence why it restricts the nation’s democracy. Additionally, all other success and change can stem from a good education, but without it, everything because limited, making change harder to achieve. When the laws separated the school by race, it was made sure that the white population would receive the benefits of a better education. African American schools, in comparison, were barely given any attention.
First of the colored schools received less funding, meaning they had worse teachers and utilities, in fact, most textbooks were outdated hand-me-downs from nearby white schools. Additionally, when towns could not afford two schools, they only had a white school. This resulted in colored schools being spread thin, especially in rural areas, making it harder for colored students to go to school because they had to travel unreasonably far distance. Additionally, despite having fewer schools, the number of colored students remained the same, resulting in classroom overcrowding, making it harder for the already worse teachers to teach the class.
The teachers were also not worse simply because they were less intelligent than the white teachers, but because they received far less training. Regardless of the teachers as well, the white leaders of the areas would censor the material African Americans could learn, even further hindering their education. All of this cultivated into a far worse education for the African American students, giving them less of a chance for opportunity and success. The effects of the poor education the students felt followed them into their lives as they grew up as well.
First off many students had to drop out of school early in order to work for their families. Additionally, even if the student did finish high school, many could not afford college. Both of these situations limited the higher education, which resulted in a worse education, limiting their future options. Due to a worse education, the African American community became related to stupidity. This racial assumption has lasted to this day, because of the segregation during the “Jim Crow” law period. This stigma hurts the community in many walks of life today, including economic and social areas.
This means that because of laws put in place because of the Plessy v. Ferguson ruling, democracy was not only constricted, but the constriction has lasted into today. However, during the “Jim Crow” Era the political and economic inequality was even worse. Today the African American population is still underrepresented in the United States political system, and while it is slowly getting better, the full democratic dream cannot be realized until all members of society are equally represented politically. However, during the “Jim Crow” Era this was even worse.
In 1900, . % of African Americans held positions of power, compared to 6. 9% of white people. This demonstrates the unequally within the political system, African Americans held only of the fraction of the powerful positions. Making their voice less heard, and often ignored, leading the colored population not having political representation, therefore limiting their democracy. This imbalance of power can be attributed to two main factors, the unbalanced education system that produced a white population much more adept and capable of running for office, and the racial predispositions of the time.
This political imbalance continued into the election process as well. Since offices were controlled by the white majority, they put in place poll tests designed to prevent African Americans from voting. In order to do this, the white community attempted to exploit the lack of education of the colored community and created literacy test. However, these tests were unfair in many ways. First, often times white voters received extremely easy questions and could go through easily. Second, African American voters often received harder questions, demonstrating an unequal separation.
Lastly, even if the African American voter got the questions right, the administrator still often said the answers were incorrect and did not allow the person to vote. This further contracts American democracy, because it removes part of the population’s participation in the electoral process. Since the unequal education is the root of these two problems, DuBois makes equal education his main requirement because it is needed to cause the other requirements. However, because the Plessy v. Ferguson ruling unfair arbitrary segregation became rampant, and imbalanced education played a role in economic inequality as well